licence for spearfishing

Do you need a licence for spearfishing?

Spearfishing has a long history both for sport and for food, and although the law changes when a speargun is used irresponsibly, there’s little to no legislation around sea spearfishing in the UK. Unlike commercial fishing, spearfishing targets only one fish at a time, identified correctly, meaning there’s no bi-catch, it’s sustainable. But there are rules to follow:

Saltwater not freshwater

Unlike many states in North America, where spearfishing in lakes and rivers is legal, in the UK it is illegal, and that includes the base of estuaries which flow into the sea. However, sea spearfishing in the UK is perfectly legal, and you don’t need a licence. Many argue that saltwater fish taste better, and the sea offers a more exciting and colourful environment for spearfishing, so who cares?

Spearfishing for profit: illegal

When you start catching good-sized fish regularly and there’s more available than you can feed your family and friends with, you might wonder if you can turn it into a business and sell them. You can’t; it’s illegal to sell the fish you catch, there are no permits or licences available because it’s an outright no. And if you’re tempted to do it anyway be warned: random checks get carried out. Restaurants in Yorkshire were recently checked for sea trout and salmon, for which they needed to provide proof of purchase.

Protected areas and species

Over the past twenty years more of Britain’s coastline has become protected by conservation laws. Typically, areas in and around coastline nature reserves, and many islands with breeding seabirds and seals, are illegal to fish. Despite being more sustainable, spearfishing is no different. In some countries species are known to have been impacted directly by spearfishing; California’s giant black sea bass and the Caribbean’s Atlantic Goliath grouper are now endangered species. UK waters haven’t experienced such catastrophic declines from spearfishing alone, but protected areas allow stocks to replenish and for ecosystems to re-establish, providing a nutrient-rich environment for growing fish.

Fish size

Many of the giants caught and proudly photographed today represent the size fish used to be. Stories told by veteran fisherman and passed down through generations speak of vast oceans bubbling with fish ten-times bigger than today’s. Paintings and old photographs back up the stories. Fishermen who fished decades ago all talk of fewer and smaller fish. But it’s because they’re not fully-grown, not because they don’t grow as big. Regulations mean it’s illegal to catch young fish, fish which don’t get chance to breed. Checking fish size means one day we’ll all catch more giants.

Although spearfishing in the UK doesn’t require a license, there are by-laws, and periodic changes in legislations, such as the one for catching bass in 2016. In other countries you’re restricted by the season, and faraway places famed for blue water hunting species like tuna and wahoo all have their legislation, you may need a licence. Zanzibar and Tanzania used to be spearo heavens, but they’ve now banned spearfishing altogether. Like checking the weather, stay up-to-date.